Published: January 16th 2014 by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover, 476 pages
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The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .
The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.
His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?
The Emperor’s Blades is one of my most anticipated reads of 2014. It sounds like a promising début: an awesome world populated by people who aren’t all white, some sinister sounding magic and politics, and a story following the Emperor’s three children after his death.
The title refers not to some mythical weaponry, but the three children whose lives are thrown into turmoil after the sudden death of their father the Emperor. The eldest is Adare, who is perfectly suited to ruling after her father, except that her being a woman stops her from doing so. The heir is Kaden, who has lived and trained as a monk for the last eight years, and the youngest is Valyn, who has spent the same time training to become one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Although they each began as stereotypes, I think the more I got to know them, the more interesting and nuanced they became.
The boys, Kaden and Valyn, get much more ‘air-time’ than Adare, which surprised and disappointed me for a number of reasons. Firstly, as the only one of the Emperor’s children actually left in the capital of the empire, she’s perfectly suited to rule until Kaden’s return, and to hunt down their father’s murderer. The blurb makes it sound like she’s doing just that. So imagine my surprise when she’s effectively shoved to the sidelines as a supposedly incompetent male regent takes over.View Spoiler »Oh I know it’s the world that the author has created that doesn’t allow women to rule. But let’s turn the tables shall we? Imagine a world where women rule and men can’t hold power. Imagine one of the principal characters is the previous ruler’s son. What would that son do to gain power? Anything and everything, right? He would sleep with the female regent, seeking to emotionally manipulate her. Or maybe he’d blackmail her and rule with her as his puppet. Or marry into a wealthy and powerful family and get himself a voice, through his wife, on the war councils. But when it’s a woman, when it’s the DAUGHTER of the Emperor, we have her making irrational decisions despite being told she’s intelligent. Adare does end up pulling the strings. But she’s given the power to do so by the male regent. There’s a whole speech on how no one else would have listened to her but he’s “deferring” to her. And then Adare responds by giving him her virginity. Admittedly there’s more going on with her, and the revelation about her father’s true killer does change things, but overall I’m quite unhappy with her arc. « Hide Spoiler
The blurb would have you believe that this is the story of three children who have to use their very different skills and talents to find and defeat their father’s murderer. The blurb would be wrong. About 70% of this book is back-story. It takes just under 350 pages for Kaden to learn he’s the Emperor now. I usually complain that I never get to see protagonists before the action begins in their lives, and that starting a story on the day the new and weird stuff starts doesn’t let me see how the characters were before-hand, but taking 70% of the story to for the back-story seems excessive to me. For the most part, The Emperor’s Blades sets up the rest of the series, and I feel that much of it could have been released as a prequel. I love that I got to know the characters really well before the action really started, but I think the book will lose many readers because they’re expecting what the synopsis promises, and they don’t get it for a very long time.
Valyn is training to become a Kettral and join the “empire’s deadliest fighting force”. He’s still a cadet when we meet him, about to undergo the dangerous Hull’s Trials and emerge as a full Kettral. He has a few friends, including Ha Lin, a fellow cadet who he’s attracted to even though dalliances between the Kettral are forbidden. While Valyn learns to become a killer, Kaden the heir, is being trained to meditate and paint by monks.View Spoiler »As much as I liked getting to know the boys, I was disappointed in the way Valyn, in particular, was painted. He’s honest, patient, and basically a Good Guy. He likes Ha Lin, but is staying away from her because of the rules. At one point, he and Lin are pitted in a training exercise against the thuggish bully of the cadets, Sami Yurl, and one of his goons. Yurl overpowers Lin and ends up straddling her, and then gropes her between the legs. Lin is understandably subdued over the next few days, but Valyn never really understands, or seems to care, that she was sexually assaulted. She is then cornered and beaten viciously by Yurl, which causes Valyn to agonise that he wasn’t there to help her. Valyn even asks her if they raped her and Lin says my favourite piece of dialogue in the book: “It’s good that they didn’t rip my blacks off and fuck me? What a solace! … They shoved my face in the dirt, slashed me across the ribs, broke my nose and probably a rib, but at least my precious cunt is intact.” And then finally, Ha Lin dies. The way she is treated for narrative purposes is the thing I dislike most about this book.
A woman had to be sexually assaulted, beaten, and then killed just so a male character had a back-story to motivate him. I don’t think this is really what the author was going for – the lines he gave Lin make me believe it’s not a case of a man writing a story and just forgetting about women. But seeing her from Valyn’s mind does no good because for Valyn, Lin exists to make him think well of himself, to give him something to ogle, to act as his conscience. For Valyn, Lin is something to be protected (he talks about letting her go places, and makes her being beaten all about himself and his failure to protect her), and even after her death, he misses Lin because she’d be able to tell him what he’s doing wrong in leading his squad. I have a hard time believing that Valyn actually saw Lin as a person. « Hide Spoiler
The world of The Emperor’s Blades is very interesting, bound to keep readers flipping pages to find out more. The prologue sets up the mythology brilliantly, and I don’t think anyone could put the book down after reading it! Only a few things are actually explored in the book, with most of it setting us up for high revelations in later volumes, but there are hints that this is a well constructed world that we will love discovering over the series.
The magic system remains largely mysterious throughout the book. Another thing I’m looking forward to finding out more about.
I enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades and think it’s good début from a promising author. It has a few issues that I’d like to see addressed in the sequels, but overall, it ends on a high note and definitely has me looking forward to the next book.